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Parting Words: An Interview with the Departing Gasteig Managing Director

At the helm of the Gasteig for seven and a half years, Max Wagner helped steer the art centre’s fortunes with perseverance and plenty of idealism. On 1 October 2023, he hands over the keys to Stephanie Jenke, who succeeds him as the Gasteig’s Managing Director. In our interview, he talks about why it’s time for him to move on and what continues to motivate him to inspire people for the arts.

Max Wagner symbolically hands over a large key to Stephanie Jenke
Copyright: Kathrin Metzner / Gasteig

Max, you were managing director of Gasteig München GmbH for seven and a half years. Why have you decided to leave now, at a time where the future of the Gasteig’s premises in Haidhausen is uncertain?

I was faced with three tasks right from the start: managing the Gasteig; looking for and building interim premises; and pushing ahead with the redevelopment [of the Haidhausen site]. Al three of these are now at a watershed moment. The Gasteig has moved on. We have changed as an enterprise and are treading new paths – for our employees as well as our audience. We searched for interim premises, found them, inaugurated them and created a new hub of culture in the city. The redevelopment has also reached a watershed: In autumn, a decision will be made on how it will proceed, and we have planned accordingly. It’s only right that someone unencumbered should take this project forward with fresh vigour.


You saw through the move of the Gasteig from Haidhausen to the Flaucher and made many changes. What were your personal high and low points?

A milestone was when the city council entrusted the Gasteig redevelopment to us in 2016, followed by an international architectural competition and drawing up of the architectural plans with Henn Architekten. And of course the search for and construction of the interim premises for the Gasteig and its institutes. One of the biggest low points for me was when the city council, contrary to our suggestion, decided in 2020 to seek an investor for the Gasteig redevelopment, which lost us our status as principal. The absolute highlight for me was the opening of the Isarphilharmonie. As a cultural manager, being able to build and inaugurate a new concert hall on time and on budget is one of the greatest gifts imaginable. I vividly remember how excited I was to address the audience for the first time on the new stage of the Isarphilharmonie on 8 October 2021.

Katrin Habenschaden and Max Wagner at the first anniversary celebrations of the Gasteig HP8.
Steffi Jenke und Max Wagner laufen zusammen mit anderen Gasteig-Mitarbeiter*innen die Stufen des Haidhauser Gasteig hinunter.
Stephanie Jenke and Max Wagner set off on foot from the Gasteig in Haidhausen to the interim premises with other Gasteig staff.

The Lab Uganda social project, the inauguration of the Isarphilharmonie with “Bühne frei” or the Mental Health Arts Festival: What motivates you to inspire people for the arts?

As an incorrigible idealist, I believe that the arts allow us to perceive and experience ourselves in our full humanness. And that is more important today than ever! In the past, learning an instrument and going to the theatre were part and parcel of cultured life. There were plenty of music and art lessons at school. That has changed, and that’s why cultural institutions need a new outlook and attitude. For almost 200 years, we have been used to creating programmes for our audiences. But in my view, we can only reach a large body of people if we truly communicate with them at eye level, listen to them and give them the opportunity to get involved themselves. To play a part in this is what motivates me the most.


Who will now fight for the new Gasteig?

Stephanie Jenke will assume my role on an interim basis. She has been an authorised signatory at the Gasteig for decades and is a fully qualified lawyer as well as a creative, committed cultural manager. The position will be advertised and the supervisory board will decide on my replacement as general manager.


And what’s next for you?

I’m taking some time off for a breather and to prepare for my new job at the Beisheim Foundation. As its Managing Director, I will be in charge of the areas of culture and health and am very much looking forward to the new challenge.


What are your parting wishes for the Gasteig and its future?

Regarding the redevelopment, I hope that there will soon be a firm political commitment; that this fantastic, important project will now be tackled and implemented with urgency.

Plans for the Gasteig redevelopment